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8 Questions to Ask Before You Sign A Contract

Updated: Jan 13, 2023

You've done it! You've landed an awesome role at an amazing company. All of those hours spent practicing at your piano, agonizing over your aria package, and performing in countless auditions have paid off. The only thing you need to do to make this dream come true is to sign your new contract. No need to read the fine print, because you're sure everything's fine. This is your dream job, right? You'll be there no matter what the contract says.

When you're caught up in the excitement of landing a gig, it can be a bit of a downer to have to think about the specifics of your contract. After all, acknowledging your disagreement with the initial terms of the contract means acknowledging the possibility of turning down a gig, no matter how perfect it might seem on the surface. As a professional singer, however, you have a responsibility to yourself to make sure that every gig you take makes sense financially, practically, and artistically, even if that means turning down one or two opportunities along the way. Before you sign any contract, make sure to ask the following questions.

Does the compensation fit my lifestyle and budget?

Singing may not always be the most lucrative career, but that doesn't mean you should have to starve in order to sing professionally. Make sure the compensation fee is set in writing before you sign, and give serious thought to whether it is feasible for your lifestyle. Create a budget for your weekly and monthly expenses while taking into account how much you need to make in order to pay for rent, food, transportation, and utilities as well as loan payments, lessons, audition fees, recording equipment, and any other miscellaneous spending. Consider using a budget tracker to keep detailed records of your finances and monetary needs. Remember that some of your potential earning hours will have to be set aside for practicing. If the company isn't paying the amount of money you need, do you have the time and ability to make up that money in other ways?

If taking the gig is going to make it difficult for you to cover your living expenses, you do have the option of negotiating a higher fee. Many opera companies may not have much flexibility since they have a limited budget and a pre-arranged payment structure for their artists, but you'll never know if you don't ask. Talk with colleagues and friends who have worked for the company before you negotiate so that you can come into the conversation with a fair and realistic compensation range. Be prepared to explain your situation and financial needs; the company may be able to offer other benefits, such as stipends for recording equipment or other required materials, that would ease your financial burden even if they are unable to pay you more.

Does the role fit my voice and my vocal development?

Your vocal health is crucial to your long-term success as a singer. If you receive a role that will put unnecessary strain on your voice or will encourage bad habits in your vocal practice, consider turning it down. Remember that a director or casting agent is often focused solely on the needs of their specific production and does not necessarily know about your personal development as a singer. You are your voice's biggest advocate, and you have to consider the long-term vocal health effects of any gig you take. You might also consider talking to your voice teacher, vocal coach, or a trusted colleague about your personal vocal needs.

Keep in mind that it can be a good thing to challenge yourself vocally and work on more advanced repertoire as you grow in your technique. However, at the end of the day, you have to be comfortable singing a role, regardless of any outside pressure or advice. There's a difference between challenging yourself and pushing your voice somewhere it doesn't want to go. You only get one set of vocal cords, and it's up to you to take care of them.

Will this role help me grow as an artist or make industry connections?

Every gig is an opportunity to learn, grow, and network as a professional singer. It is also an expenditure of time and energy you will not be using elsewhere, potentially on other gigs or professional development opportunities. While you should never look down on a role, you should honestly weigh the benefits you will get out of taking it, especially if you are choosing between two opportunities. It's always a good idea to expand your network by working with new directors, coaches, and fellow singers, so consider a gig's networking potential when assessing its benefits.

Do I have enough time and energy to properly prepare for this gig?

As a professional singer, your reputation is largely built on your level of preparedness when you show up to sing. Set yourself up for success by only taking gigs for which you can properly prepare. There is no shame in turning down a role because you know you won't have enough time to learn it. It's better to be upfront with a company about your availability and allow them time to find a replacement than to drop the ball at the last minute. Allow yourself the time and space to present your best work to your colleagues and production staff. Think hard about your personal routine, the time you need to learn new music, and your other schedule commitments before you say yes.

Do you have a big role to learn in a short amount of time? Check out Modern Singer's Learn Your Music the Right Way Workbook, available now in our Etsy Shop, and show up to your first rehearsal ready to impress!

Is the company transparent with the logistics in your contract?

When you receive your contract, pay close attention to how much information is included and how much is left out. If a company is not forthright about important logistical information, including compensation, expected rehearsal times, and the length of the contract, take note; a lack of transparency is a huge red flag. Make sure to ask for any vital information in writing, just in case you need to reference it later.

Additionally, don't be afraid to ask questions! It's completely reasonable to ask a company questions about compensation, rehearsal and performance schedules, technology requirements, publicity rights, and more. It is also important to ask about the safety of the gig. If there is an in-person element, are COVID procedures being implemented to keep yourself and your fellow singers safe? A reputable company should be able to answer your questions or should be willing to find an answer if they cannot. If a company is unwilling to answer your questions, stay away. You don't want to be stuck in a contract that may hurt you financially, vocally, physically, or mentally.

Will the production team be respectful of my time and of my work?

In any performance, there are bound to be a few miscommunications, schedule changes, or last-minute rehearsals. However, when these scheduling mishaps become a common theme, it will become difficult for you to schedule any other gigs or jobs. If a company is completely unorganized, or if a production staff does not respect the time of the performers, a new gig can cause more headaches than it's worth. Ask your network about their previous experience working with a company or director. Pay attention to how the audition process and communications have been handled up to this point. Did auditions run smoothly? Did they contact you within a reasonable amount of time? Were they mindful of any timing concerns when they scheduled your audition? Mistakes will happen, but you are a professional, and you should work in a place where you are treated as such.

For virtual projects, what will be required of me technology-wise? Will I be in charge of my own recording, mixing, or editing?

With virtual projects becoming more common, singers are often being asked to do a bulk of the recording or editing in their own homes, on their own time. Unfortunately, not all of us have regular access to high-quality recording equipment or space. Before you sign your contract, make sure you and your employer are clear on the type of equipment you have versus the type of equipment that is required. Quality cameras, microphones, and green screen equipment are very useful for singers to have at home, especially now, but that equipment can also cost a significant portion of your paycheck if you're purchasing it for a single project. If you need equipment, ask the company if there are options for equipment sharing or renting. Some companies may also allot stipends to help artists purchase viable equipment, so ask if this is a possibility as well!

Also, keep in mind that recording your own work at home can take many extra hours, especially if you don't have access to outside help. Sound mixing and video editing can quickly eat up your time and energy, even if you have prior experience with editing software, on top of rehearsal hours that may not be accounted for in your contract. Make sure the production responsibilities of the project are clear. Is the company expecting you to submit fully edited clips, or do they have a production person in place to turn your raw files into a finished project? If you are responsible for editing your own audio and video, do you have the time and technical skill to do so on top of your performance responsibilities?

Do I want to take this gig?

In the end, any contract will require a lot of hard work, long rehearsals, and self-motivation. If you're having to make compromises financially, professionally, or artistically, they will add on a slew of additional stress. If you're not excited about a gig, or if it will feel like more trouble than it's worth to jump through the hoops required to perform, you might want to consider turning it down. It will be much harder to put energy into a project that feels like a burden, especially when so much of the preparation is reliant on your own diligence. A negative attitude also has a way of bleeding into the rehearsal room and onto the stage, and it's likely your colleagues and production staff will notice. Signing a contract means promising to be a fully dedicated colleague, so make sure you can commit to that professional standard before you sign.

It is definitely more exciting to receive a contract than it is to consider the specifics of it. However, doing your research at the beginning of the process will save you time, stress, and money down the road, giving you the ability to fully focus on your work as an artist. You are a professional musician, so treat every role as an important career step, and make sure your employers do the same.

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